Since laws around gambling advertising in the UK were relaxed, the country has benefited from the development of a successful gambling industry. Responsible for countless tens of thousands of jobs nationwide, not to mention the significant contributions to government coffers, the industry is often held up as a model for other countries considering their own approach to gambling regulation.
But while most commentators acknowledge the benefits of the gambling sector, some have expressed concerns about the impact of gambling advertising on vulnerable groups, including those liable to develop problems with controlling their gambling impulses. In particular, regulators have been keen to ensure that those under legal gambling age are not subjected to gambling advertising where this can be avoided, with steps taken to ensure advertising is better targeted to adults.
Now, according to a new report from advertising watchdog the Advertising Standards Agency, these measures appear to be working well. Their ‘Children’s exposure to age-restricted TV ads’ report, published this week, looks TV ads and the proportion of children viewing advertising for alcohol, junk food and gambling services that should be age-restricted.
The report spans the period from 2008 to 2017, and reflects a growth between 2008 and 2013 from 2.2 ads viewed per week to 4.4 ads per week in 2013. In 2013, regulations around TV advertising for the gambling sector were overhauled, and since, these numbers have actually shown a downwards trend.
By 2017, the number of gambling ads seen by children per week was averaging 2.8, a decline of over 37% from the peak in 2008. While all categories of age-restricted advertising exposure declined over the same period, the findings can be taken as positive validation of the strategies and approaches adopted, both by regulators and the industry more broadly, to protect vulnerable segments of society.
Regulators in the UK have come under criticism for being too easily swayed by the howls of the media, currently in full anti-gambling swing. But what these findings do show is that either way, the issue of children viewing age-restricted TV ads is becoming less significant with every passing year.
While the decline is to be welcomed, there is still work to be done. Children in 2018 were still seeing fractionally more gambling ads per week than children in 2008, and clearly more can and is being done to shift this figure back towards 2008 levels. However, with such a stark drop from the peak of 2013, it’s clear that industry and regulators are working well to reduce access for underagers to gambling ads.
As media consumption behaviours become ever-more online focused, it is likely these figures will continue to fall. Online advertising is by default significantly more targeted than TV advertising, and there is hope that the trend towards online over TV advertising will ensure ever fewer kids seeing age-restricted ads.
Yet this is still a battle worth fighting, and one where all parties involved have taken steps that bring them much closer to parity with 2008 levels. With more efforts to better target ads and protect children in line with age-restrictions in future, there’s no reason why these numbers can’t and shouldn’t fall much further.